The Review Copy Question

I ran into an interesting post recently from the makers of a game called Toxikk, an Arena FPS. Now, I don’t typically surf the web to find the next great Arena FPS hit. To the contrary, I’ve never been much of a fan of the genre. However, it came up in my Twitter feed and prompted me to do a bit of thinking.

Before we go too much farther, though, you should take a look at the post. It’s made by Sharkster, presumably a member of the studio, and states that while Reakktor Studios has received over 200 requests for review copies of Toxikk, they will not be issuing out a single code.

“…if your passion for Arena FPS games doesn’t even allow you to spend a few bucks for your own copy of a fresh (and relatively low priced) Arena FPS, we will have to get along without your “support”. Sorry.” – Sharkster, Reakktor Studios

The whole post made me think about the impact of review copies on small, independent studios like Reakktor. A review copy is essentially a copy of your game that you will not be receiving any direct compensation for. A freebie, in other words. If you’re charging 20 dollars for your game, that’s 20 dollars revenue lost. If you receive and fulfill 200 requests for review copies, as Reakktor claims, that means you are out 4000 dollars. To small studios with slim margins, 4000 bucks is a decent amount of money.

My initial reaction was to blow a soft raspberry at the post and move on, but it really made me think about the review copy system as a concept. Is it worth it to hand out review copies if you are a small independent studio? The conclusion I ultimately arrived at is yes, and here’s why:

First off, as Sharkster states in his post, Reakktor (and most other studios in the industry) are not Sony, EA, or Ubisoft. Those companies have marketing departments and budgets that enable them to plaster the sides of the LA Convention Center with 15 story tall posters advertising their games during E3; budgets that allow them to buy site takeovers, skins, ad blocks, you name it for their games on video game media sites; budgets that allow them to fly prominent streamers to their studios to play the games they make.

In short, they have a bunch of cards an independent studio doesn’t. It is a great example of stubbornness to deny yourself the one card you have available to you from a marketing standpoint – review copies. Let’s say, for example, you send out all 200 review copies that have been requested. The internet being what it is, maybe a quarter of those turn into reviews, Let’s Plays, or whatever. 4000 bucks worth of code for maybe 50 exposure opportunities on channels and websites of varying sizes.

Now, let’s say on average each of those expose the game to a hundred people that otherwise would not have heard of your game (a very, very low number). Those 200 requests have suddenly turned into 5000 pairs of eyeballs on your game. All of a sudden, it only takes a 4% conversion rate of eyes-on to sell-throughs to have broken even on your outlay of 4000 potential bucks in revenue.

I say potential, of course, due to the fact that while 20 bucks isn’t much for a game, if you are a gaming media outlet or entity it can really begin to add up if you had to purchase every copy of every game you cover. That’s not to say you should be crying for the poor Youtubers and gaming websites of the world, but let’s be realistic – these are businesses we’re talking about. And 20 bucks for your game in order to cover it? That’s a bad investment in this hypothetical.

Let’s say a gaming website buys your 20 dollar game for the purpose of review. This gaming website is, as most are, sustained by advertising revenue. If their review only reaches 100 people, and the website has an average CPM (cost per mille, the rate of payment for every thousand views of an ad) of 3, which is the industry standard, your 20 dollar game only generates 30 cents for the website covering it.

The current system of sending out review copies certainly has issues, there is no denying that. But for a small, independent studio? Review copies are a no-brainer. Fulfill as many legitimate requests for review copies as you can, because otherwise your game isn’t going to get seen in nearly as many places as it could otherwise be. Eyes on your game = revenue, and once you realize that you should be able to follow everything else through to its logical conclusion.